Encyclopedia of eCommerce Upgrade / Migration: Part 4
Comprehensive Analysis and Migration of eCommerce Platform Shipping Methods
An integral part of any eCommerce business is the shipping methods that are being used. Being able to offer the lowest shipping rates whilst covering all costs and a variety of options with an efficient delivery time is crucial for any store’s success. The shipping options available are also a critical factor that directly affects cart abandonment rates.
For your customers, a good shipping experience is as important as the website’s design. This is why it is important for online store owners to have complete control over their shipping.
Now you cannot just go jumping in to make a decision for your shipping based on what your competitors are using and providing. This is exactly how you might lose control over your shipping. Each store is unique and should be treated the same way.
Firstly, you should evaluate the shipping methods on your existing store. This is also a great time for you to develop a new and improved shipping strategy that will help you gain an added advantage over others. Usually, the shipping methods fall under the following categories:
When we talk about product measurements, the shipping options fall primarily into two sub-categories:
a. Weight: The products may vary significantly in terms of weight and may use different units of measure. So to configure your shipping, you can choose a primary unit of weights and convert all your products into that unit during checkout to calculate the rates accordingly.
b. Dimensions: The dimensions of the products and their units of measurements can also vary significantly. You will again be required to choose a primary unit of dimension, convert your products to that unit to calculate the shipping costs.
Determine the variation in the product measurements from the smallest/lightest product to the heaviest/largest product. If your products are relatively uniform in size, you could choose a flat shipping rate or go for rates that are calculated by the distance to the destination. If your products, however, vary significantly, then you might want to get rates directly from a carrier service.
The destinations where you plan to sell your products also affect your shipping options. If you only ship to areas close to your warehouse or domestically, you can offer your shipping at flat rates. You could also offer flat rates for regions within a particular radius. These rates can be increased accordingly as the radius, where the region is located, increases.
International shipping, however, makes things a little tricky. Most of the times, there’s nothing much that you could do about shipping rates for international customers as these are decided by the carriers and are also affected by many regulations from different countries. The options you have too are limited but still enough for you to make effective.
One point to be noted is that most of the eCommerce platforms allow owners to set their destinations in almost all of the shipping methods. This is primarily because of the fact that all stores do not deliver their products everywhere. So store owners can either base the entire shipping charges on the destination, as mentioned here, or complement this criterion with some other method.
Real-time shipping is something that allows eCommerce owners to show shipping rates that are charged by the carrier services itself. These rates are calculated by the carrier service provider based on a number of factors of the products like size, destination, source, packaging, delivery time etc..
The carrier service will either provide you with the APIs to integrate this facility of theirs with their store or the platform might have an inbuilt functionality for the same. With this, the shipping charges that the carrier service charges are dynamically displayed during the checkout. This, however, will take away the control from the store owner over the shipping charges being charged.
Most of the times, domestic carrier services may not provide the real-time shipping option. In such cases, you could create a table of rates to be charged based on some pre-decided factors. This table can then match the values provided by the user with the ones that are entered in the table and dynamically provide the shipping rate to the users. Table rate shipping rates are often calculated against the following common conditions:
a. Weight vs. Destination: In this condition, the shipping rates are configured based on the weight of the product being bought and the destination it has to be delivered to. This is a good option for stores which sell products varying in weight significantly. Majority of the platforms require you upload a CSV file of a defined template with the values filled in. The spreadsheet/CSV file consists of a column where you are supposed to list down the destination. This column can include countries, regions or postal codes depending on the template. Another column is where you are required to fill in the minimum weight criteria for a particular shipping cost and the last column is where you enter the shipping rate.
So your table should look something like this:
|Destination||Minimum Weight and above (lbs)||Shipping Cost ($)|
b. Price vs. Destination: In this condition, the minimum price of purchase is measured against the destination. The format of the CSV remains the same as mentioned above with just the column of weight being replaced by that of the price of purchase. This is a better option for stores whose products do not vary in size significantly but the products vary in prices a lot. So now the table looks something like this:
|Destination||Order Subtotal and above ($)||Shipping Cost ($)|
c. No. of Items vs. Destination: As the name suggests, this condition tallies the number of items bought against the destination where it is to be shipped. This method works great if your store sells products in wholesale or as a distributor. For stores with products that don’t vary significantly in price or weight too can use this to their benefit. With this, your CSV file that determines the shipping rate will be similar to this:
|Destination||Number of Items and above||Shipping Cost ($)|
Although this might be a little complex and time consuming, it still is one of the most effective shipping methods as it gives store owners complete control over what they charge for shipping and a lot more intricately. In such a case, you could also ask your developers to create a smart script to automate the process.
Fixed Cost shipping is often an easy way out for all store owners in terms of shipping. Even the customers find this option easy to understand and reasonable. In fixed cost shipping, you set one price that is charged for all orders regardless of the size, order value etc.
Fixed cost/Flat rate shipping can either be like applying the same cost for all orders regardless the variations, or a fixed rate based on one criterion like the price of purchase. For instance, a store that charges $10 for shipping items worth less than $20, $5 for items between $20-$100 and free for purchases above $100 uses this system.
The free shipping option is another easy way to handle your shipping rates and also encourage them to buy more from your store thereby resulting in an increase of average order size. This option is based on a simple criterion of minimum order purchasing. There are two variations to this method:
a. Minimum Subtotal for Single Product: Stores, especially marketplaces, with products that are shipped from different regions prefer providing free shipping on individual products. Hence, no matter the number of products the user buys, if each product is above a certain set value. Shipping will be charged for products that don’t meet the minimum value.
b. Minimum Subtotal for complete Order: eCommerce businesses that own warehouses where all the products are shipped from can take advantage of this method. This variation follows a simple criterion in which the store applies the discount for a total minimum order value no matter how many products are bought. If the order fulfills the set value, the user is eligible for Free shipping.
The Free shipping option is another widely popular shipping method that also acts as a great marketing strategy.
To plan an effective shipping strategy, store owners can use either one or a combination of the above mentioned methods to take care of the shipping.This is also a really good time to restructure your strategy to make it more efficient and cost effective. Often, the inability to handle shipping effectively is also a reason that compels you to shift to a new platform. So evaluate your existing system well so you’ll be able to plan out your next strategy more seamlessly.
Once you have your shipping systems laid out, you should move on to analyzing which platform can submit it. Not all platforms are the same and have their differences in such key areas which can affect your decision. So do your research well to ensure that your new platform can support your plans.
The process of shipping migration goes through three primary phases which are as follows:
1. Platform Analysis
Your existing platform may have a built-in facility for the shipping categories mentioned above. It could also be that you may have gotten it customized to suit your requirements. However, the same may not be true for the new platform. Hence, an analysis of the functionalities of the new platform becomes crucial.
For example, Shopify only supports real-time shipping for USPS and Canada Post in its basic plan but in the advanced plans, you can include custom credentials to display rates from UPS, USPS, FedEx or Canada Post. But WooCommerce has a plugin that provides real-time shipping rates from various carriers. So you could either use a paid platform with a built-in functionality for this or could use a free platform with a paid plugin.
A lot of times you might also have to make use of non-traditional carrier services like LTL or FTL Carrier Services for your products that are generally not provided by the majority of eCommerce businesses. In such cases, you will have to find a platform that allows you to integrate custom APIs provided by the carrier service with the store and supports it. In such cases, open source platforms seem to be a viable option. Platforms like Shopify currently don’t provide options to extend their shipping options.
Ideally, store owners should try their shipping strategy on a demo setup of the new platform to ensure that it supports your system well. You should consult your developers too to see if the platform of your choice can be customized to make your intended shipping plan more feasible and then move to the migration. This will help them get a deeper insight of the platform and will make the analysis stage a success.
Now, after you thoroughly evaluate your options for platforms and carrier services, it is time to migrate your shipping system. This migration is achieved in one of two ways.
i) Inbuilt Functionality: If the carrier service you plan to use is inbuilt in the new platform, then things become very easy. All you have to do is go to the admin dashboard, select the shipping and payment categories and select the service you wish to use. You then manually configure the rates as required using the options available.
ii) Custom API Integration:In this, you will have to create an account for the carrier service you plan to use and obtain the API that will be used to integrate it into your store. Since there are a plethora of platforms available, it’s not possible for them to create an API compatible with all platforms. This is why you will be provided with a general API that you further will have to customize or create a compatible script that integrates it with your new platform. Unlike the previous method, this requires a significant amount of technical expertise and previous experience if you want to get it done right.
The last step of the whole process is undoubtedly testing the feature. The testing phase of the process will help highlight the success of the shipping system migration. Traditionally, you should test your shipping methods by setting up a staging site and order different variations of your products to see if the rates and services are delivered as expected.
If there are errors, you will have sufficient time to make changes and not lose customers by launching a website with a faulty shipping system. It will also help you understand the scope of your shipping options that will help you expand its reach in the future as your store grows.
With that, the migration of your store’s shipping configuration completes. You can now be confident that your new store has an impeccable shipping system that won’t just effectively increase sales but also increase user experience and reduce cart abandonment rates.